Come the fall, my local butcher's shop begins to overflow with all manner of beautiful fresh birds: partridge, pheasant, grouse, and woodcock—the names alone make me salivate. They are more expensive than average supermarket chicken, to be sure, but these birds have led a totally free- range life, and I swear you can taste it in the flesh. Some gourmets I know say that a roasted grouse, hung for a long time until the flesh is strong and heady, is their favorite food of all time. I'm not sure I'd agree, but then I've never been game hunting. I can imagine that if hunting's your bag, and you've shot a grouse yourself while standing beside a panting, wet dog in the pouring rain on some heather-covered hillside with a roaring fire waiting for you back home, the romance of it all transforms the eating experience.
If the taste of an aged grouse is too much for your palate, a great way of enjoying the season of carnivorous plenty is to eat partridge, with its milder gamey flavors and sweetness of flesh. It's not difficult to cook (unlike pheasant, which can be dry and tricky to do justice to), as long as you wrap up the bird in a nice cocoon of bacon to keep it moist.
• 6 partridges, ready for roasting
• 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
• 12 slices of bacon
• 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
• 3/4 cup red wine
• 3/4 cup chicken stock
• 1 tablespoon red currant or blackberry jelly
• 4 thyme sprigs
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Spread a little butter over each bird, then wrap each one in a couple of slices of bacon, securing them with toothpicks.
Place the partridges in a roasting pan and roast uncovered for about 20 minutes, then remove the bacon (it should be nice and crispy) and place on a plate, cover, and keep warm. Return the partridges to the oven and continue to roast for another 10 minutes.
Remove the birds from the roasting pan, cover, and keep warm. Add the flour to the roasting pan and stir it into the juices. Add the wine, stock, red currant jelly, and thyme, and let this gravy reduce to your preferred consistency.
Serve one partridge per person with 2 slices of bacon each. Accompany with mashed potatoes or polenta, and green beans, spring greens, or other green and crunchy vegetables.